cover image The Peloponnesian War: Athens, Sparta and the Struggle for Greece

The Peloponnesian War: Athens, Sparta and the Struggle for Greece

Nigel Bagnall, . . St. Martin's, $27.95 (318pp) ISBN 978-0-312-34215-9

Bagnall (The Punic Wars , 2005), a former British army chief of the general staff, completed this rigorous study of ancient Greece's 27-year civil war just before his death in 2002. A seminal event in ancient history, the Peloponnesian War pitted the two great Greek rivals, democratic Athens and authoritarian Sparta, in what Bagnall calls "a fearful, self-destructive war." The conflict, precipitated by Athens' lust for Greek hegemony, quickly settled into a stalemate—"an elephant versus a whale"—because neither Sparta, a land power, nor Athens, a naval power, had a clear strategy for victory. Sparta and her allies finally prevailed by severing Athens' supply lines and starving the city-state into submission. In dense prose, Bagnall captures the Greeks' self-destructive madness. Though the action occasionally slows, Bagnall is at his best when painting in-depth portraits of the major players, like Pericles, and when dissecting the endless battles in far-flung theaters from Asia Minor to Sicily. He concludes with a brief survey of the lessons learned and their contemporary relevance. While much of this ground has been covered, students and enthusiasts of ancient Greece and military history will welcome this excellent perspective on a watershed event. (Aug.)